7 Ways to Rebuild Society, Burning Man Style

Burning Man From Space

Some Monday mornings you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam caused by some idiot turning themselves into Ragu by plowing into the back end of a slow-moving semi because he was trying snap a picture of his wang to send to the NSA his secret mistress/mister. On those days, it’s fun to think of how you’d end your fellow humans if they ever became flesh-crazed zombies and chased you and yours with ravenous intentions. Most of the time, though, it’s fun to think of how you’d rebuild society after something like that. To think of the future as it could – and should! – be.

If you ask me (you didn’t), that’s real fun of future-thinking: picturing the best of what could be.

Over at Shareable, Jessica “the Hun” Reeder has been busy painting the Burning Man festival as just that – a fantastic utopia that should serve as a model for reinventing your town or city. You know, exactly the kind of thing you’d have to do in order to rebuild society after some horrible apocalypse/natural disaster.

With that in mind, here are 7 ideas to keep in mind when you rebuild society … or, plan a music festival. Either one, I suppose. Enjoy!


1. ย  Adopt the Right Mindset: There are No Spectators

Burning Man fosters a culture of participation through its Ten Principles and provide basic infrastructure such as roads, sanitation, and safety, which, by the way, rely heavily on volunteer labor. Participants fill in the blanks beautifully with a seemingly unlimited number of options for care, connection, artistic expression, education, sustenance, and fun. At Burning Man, there are no spectators. Likewise, we increasingly need cities where every citizen is intimately involved in creating their city on a day to day basis.

2. ย  Crowdsource the Budget

Almost none of the projects exhibited at Burning Man are fully funded by the festival. Many of them are crowdfunded, which requires active community participation and organically vets projects, ensuring that the best (read: most popular) ideas are the ones most likely to be funded.

The city of Vallejo, California is taking this idea for a spin, testing out participatory budgeting for 30 percent of its funds. Community members decide which projects to fund, and must work together to get the funding approved. “If you live in northern Vallejo and you want a bus shelter, then you know what, you’ve got to partner with people in other parts of the city who want bus shelters too,” Councilmember Marti Brown told The Atlantic Cities. “People are going to have to learn how to think like that. It encourages people to work with groups they’ve never worked with before.”

3. ย  Build Your Own Bank

Burning Man famously bans all exchange of money, recommending that people share and “gift” their resources within the community. Thatโ€™s not likely to happen in the most of the world very soon, there is usually plenty of bartering going on in local farming communities, and even more-so during natural disasters/sustained power outages. Add the recent debt crisis in Greece and Detroit to the mix, and a barter economy starts to seem pretty plausible.

4. ย  Share Your Profits

Join a local cooperative and encourage your city government to support the growth of the cooperative sector.

If you’re not aware of them, co-ops are owned and controlled by either workers or customers. Like many “main street” style businesses, co-ops are community-minded and stable job creators that are far from being a hippie pipe dream. A co-op is a proven model, and (as of 2012) more than 120 million Americans belonged to at least one co-op. In addition, more than 25% of America’s electric grid is cooperatively owned, and national co-ops are booming. These bigger co-ops include chains like ACE Hardware, which helps “mom-and-pop” hardware shops stay open and keep profits and assets in a given community.

5. ย  Hitch, Surf, and Crash

Want to live well at Burning Man? Pool your resources with a “camp” of anywhere from five to 500 people, who share kitchens, showers, shelters and even transportation so that everyone can afford access to these necessities. Want to live well in a post-apocalyptic future or after a large-scale natural disaster? Use the same logic.

6. ย  Plug In to the Resource Grid

Calm down “off-the-gridders”, this doesn’t mean plugging in to the electric/internet grid. Instead, we’re telling you to post your services on bulletin boards, or simply let people know what you have to offer. Have a good axe and a black thumb? Offer to chop some wood so someone else can have a fire – they’ll probably trade you some fresh vegetables, if they have them or can get them. Play to your strengths, let others play to theirs, and take care of each other when you can.

7. ย  Program Your Government

Burning Man organizers lay out the roads and some infrastructure, then allow the population to build its own city. In the rest of America, we donโ€™t have as much creative control – but if your government can’t get to you, as was the case for many thousands of people after major hurricanes like Andrew and Katrina – you’ll be on your own. If it’s the apocalypse, you’ll be on your own for a long while. So, consider who will be running the show, making the heavy decisions, and what kind of checks and balances you’ll put on them.

Above all, try to make it better than what you’re used to.


These ideas just scratch the surface, of course, but the key thing is this: participation. Even without an epic, summer-blockbuster-style apocalypse, a lot can be done to make communities more participatory in the spirit of Burning Man. Let us know what kind of ideas you have in the comments, below.


Source: Shareable.

Written by Jo Borrรกs

One Comment

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  1. Don’t forget about throwing raging parties. There’s no better way to celebrate the moment, even if that moment is Mad-maxillian. All the hard work of rebuilding society and killing zombies with chainsaws should really end with a solid DJ and some laser lights and furry hats (from the rabbits you’re raising, of course).

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